Wallabies-England could be last rugby Test at SCG – and England is drawing inspiration from an Aussie cricket great
Eddie Jones‘ love of the SCG and its rich sporting heritage is driving England ahead of Wallabies decider, writes CHRISTY DORAN.
The Wallabies will tonight play their first match at the SCG since their 26-0 win over Argentina in 1986. It will likely be their last.
The venue has played witness to many truly iconic Tests – 71 in all, of which the Wallabies have won 31, lost 35 and drawn four times – and a series-clinching victory over England would be a fitting send-off before the move to the almost-completed Allianz Stadium.
Nostalgia will linger in the air from kick-off to full-time. For Simon Poidevin, his mind will turn back 42 years to the moment the Wallabies, led by Dave Brockhoff, secured a thrilling series win over the All Blacks in front of 48,698 spectators.
“Running that Bledisloe Cup around that ground and just the whole crowd singing Waltzing Matilda was just unbelievable,” Poidevin reflects. “I‘ll never forget it.”
A year earlier, Brockhoff had made a similar lap of honour around the SCG, cup in hand, after the Wallabies’ first win over the All Blacks in 30 years.
“That was quite famous when David Brockhoff got the Cup and was running around the oval and the rest of us followed,” Andrew Slack says. “Forty-three years later we still giggle about that.”
Even Eddie Jones could be forgiven a few wistful moments on Saturday, notwithstanding the job he has before him with the England side. Jones used to sit in the stands alongside his childhood friends Mark, Glen and Gary Ella and watch cricket and rugby Tests.
He wants England to play with the same aggression Ian Chappell led by, when he first captained Australia against England, at the venue.
“It‘s a famous old ground and I’ve got great memories going out,” Jones said. “The great old days of Souths and watching many an Ashes Test series.
“I was out there when (John) Snow knocked out (Terry) Jenner and there was obviously a bit of discourse going on between the fans and John Snow.
“And also watching when Ian Chappell strode on for his first time as Australian captain.
“That‘s how we want to play on Saturday, like Ian Chappell did when he walked on the field and owned it.
“Play with plenty of purpose, play with plenty of energy, play together and we‘re looking forward to the challenge.”
For players of Poidevin’s vintage, Saturday’s final pilgrimage to the SCG will be tinged with historic regret.
It was the Moore Park venue where the Wallabies had wanted to play their semi-final against France in the inaugural World Cup of 1987, only for politics to determine that the game was to be played at Concord Oval.
France, who had lost a year earlier to the Wallabies at the SCG, won 30-24.
It still angers Poidevin to this day.
“It‘s one of the iconic sporting grounds in the world,” he says.
“Clearly not an ideal rugby or rugby league field, but there‘s been a huge history of Australian rugby at the SCG.
“I‘d say now, had we actually had the chance for our semi-final of the Rugby World Cup [to be played at the SCG], we certainly would have got to the final against New Zealand. That ground meant a lot to that team and we’d had some fantastic victories in the couple of years before that at that ground.
“It was really deflating. It was really more a political play of establishing Concord Oval.
“It was the wrong thing for Australian rugby, the wrong thing for the Wallabies.”
Slack, who was captain of the Wallabies at the time, agreed with Poidevin’s sentiments.
“We should have won the game at Concord,” Slack says. “With that said, it definitely would have been advantageous [to play at the SCG].”
For David Campese, the return to the SCG will remind him of his signature move.
“We played the All Blacks there,” he recalls. “And that‘s where I first did the goose step.
“I‘d used it before but that was the first time on the big stage.”
It’s not sure Australian rugby’s alma mater who hold SCG memories dear. The same extends to many of their touring foes, including former All Blacks fullback and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
Deans kicked five penalties and slotted a conversion in New Zealand’s 25-24 win over Alan Jones’ Wallabies at the SCG to secure the Bledisloe Cup in 1984.
“It wasn‘t the greatest spectacle, but we got home against a very handy Australian team who went on to win the Grand Slam” Deans says. “It was memorable, and what made it memorable was it was such a historic venue.
“We changed out of the Member‘s Stand there, the cricket sheds, and that for me – I was pretty fond of my cricket – so that was pretty special.
“I had the good fortune of playing cricket there when I was coaching here. We had a league against union fixture, and we had been beaten the year before, so I was pretty keen to get up over them. I got 53 not out, so I‘ve had a couple of special days at the SCG.”
Deans remembers the SCG being “chockers” for the 1984 Test. It came a week after the All Blacks had levelled the series in Brisbane. Alan Jones remembers the Test for the rarest of rugby occurrences.
“We lost the second Test in Brisbane by a few points and right at the end Roger Quittenton awarded a penalty to New Zealand against David Campese,” Jones recalls.
“Guess what for? A head high tackle! Campo had never made a tackle in his whole life and Campo was penalised for a head high tackle. It‘s a part of history.”
Earlier in the series, the Wallabies had been long odds to beat the All Blacks in the opening Test at the SCG. So long, in fact, that Jones bought all the newspapers from the local shop to use as motivation.
“We were staying down at the grubby two star Travel Lodge down in Rushcutters Bay, which they‘ve since knocked down,” he says. “There were a few newspapers – because in those days there was an afternoon newspaper – and it was The Sun newspaper, and I went to the desk and I could see the back page and it said ‘Australia 100-1’.
“I honestly thought that they were talking about the horse racing, so I looked at it and I thought, ‘Bloody hell this about us!’ So I bought all the papers because I didn‘t want anyone to see it.
“I showed [the Wallabies] the newspaper and said, ‘This is what they think about us.’ And I said, ‘We‘re going to go out there and rub this in their noses. When you run out onto the paddock today, pause, look up at all these people and just say, You may have come to see us thrashed but we’re going to end up the winners.’
“Well, we just hammered them.”
Jones said the SCG was one of the “great sporting theatres of the world” and added it was important that players appreciated that. “There has to be more to sport than just running out and kicking the football and belting someone to the ground,” he says.
Tonight, the SCG will for one last time be packed to the rafters with rugby union fans after Rugby Australia on Thursday announced the Test was sold out.
For many past players, the Test is a throwback to the glory days of amateur rugby where the ball was fed into the scrum and the decisions rested with those in the middle. Indeed, Poidevin speaks warmly of the “good old amateur days” when teams were forced to warm-up across Driver Avenue for lack of an alternative.
“The emotion of playing at the Sydney Cricket ground was a complete thrill for me,” Slack says. “My choice would have been to play cricket for Australia, so at least I got to the cricket ground. From that emotive point of view, the SCG was brilliant.”